One week and three days ago I ran my first half marathon. Which, to many of you, is just a regular morning run, but to me it meant that I did something that I never thought I was capable of doing. I’ve written before about why I didn’t think I could do this, but I do think that for the sake of blatant honesty, I should briefly overview how this unlikely it was that I actually finished this race. Here’s a quick timeline:
- November of last year, I watched one of my best friends run and complete a half marathon, despite her personal trainer telling her she wasn’t capable of doing so. I cried watching her cross the finish line, making me realize that I was her personal trainer telling myself that I could never do this.
- Entered the Nike Women’s Half Marathon lottery with the same best friend, one of my best friends in DC and 20,000+ other women around the country.
- Start to run sort of frequently because I think that I probably should learn to run further than a mile if I ever plan on running a half marathon.
- December— got into said lottery, along with my best friends and a few other people I know and really enjoy. Keep running, start to really enjoy running– who knew this was possible!
- January— start Nike’s official training app, which is insane requires lots and lots of miles to be logged each week, but I’m into it, so let’s keep running. Indoors, please note, never outdoors as we are living in the longest Winter ever and it’s way too cold to run outside. Run my first 5 miles straight and think, “I’m awesome.”
- February— get a job? (if you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, this is it! More on this later.) Who has time to train when you work this much. Also, I remember that I hate running, especially after 7pm at night.
- February pt 2. — I hate this training app, I hate running, I hate that I signed up for this. I should drop out. Oh, it’s non-refundable? Okay, fine. I tried to run a few times, see how well that worked out here.
- March— At this point I have completely thrown away the app, given up on myself at least 10 times, mentally buried any ability that I possessed to train for this and also decided that I do in fact 100% hate running. Cool.
- April– The race is right around the corner and I knew that I couldn’t quit, I would never be able to live with myself. My best friend doing this race with me was killing her long runs, I was busy making excuses not to do them. Why? They were hard, they were long and I hated running outdoors. I couldn’t run more than a quarter of a mile without wanting to stop and I let myself constantly believe that it was way too hard and my body wasn’t capable of doing it. Cool, this was going well.
- Easter weekend, one week before the race– I had a 10 mile race scheduled, the furthest that I’ve ever run and would run before the race. I knew if I could do this I could get out there and just cross that damn finish line. I went out Saturday to run and went 3 miles and went home. Because I couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t. A good friend of mine text me and said that if i I didn’t run those 10 miles Sunday morning then she would be at my apartment at 4 AM on Monday to run the miles with me before work. Keeping that threat in mind, I woke up Sunday morning, ran 10 miles and cried at the end. I didn’t do it Saturday not because I didn’t feel like it, but because I believed at my core that I just couldn’t do it.
- Race weekend— ran, finished, cried.
13.1 miles allows you a lot of time to think, and I tried to mentally take every single breath in. I wanted to remember this moment because I knew I would never be the same afterwards. I had accomplished what, to me, was a herculean task and I could not let myself lose that moment. I think there are some really valuable things you learn when you push your body and mind beyond that what it’s comfortable with that apply to any part of your life. I took away four major life lessons that I think are applicable to all of us at any time in our lives.
- All of life is better with cheering squad. Miles 1-6 were, surprisingly, a breeze for me. I coasted thru, high-fiving other runners and blasting my music while enjoying the natural high that you feel from running a race with 15,000 other people. The miles were also easy because the streets were lined with well-wishers with hilarious signs, there to encourage you to just keep going. Mile 7-9 absolutely killed my high. Why? Because we were running a long golf course with nobody there to keep us motivated. Miles 10-13 I was back on, alive through the cheers of strangers and motivated by seeing my parents right at the end of mile 12. Knowing that my husband and friends were waiting at the finish line was enough to hold on to whenever I wanted to quit. Cheer your friends on. Go to their races, call and encourage them regularly, be vocal with your praise for them, be there for them when they’re struggling. All of life is better with a cheering squad.
- Momentum is a hell of thing. When you’re doing well, just keep going. When resistance tells you to stop, just keep going. When other people around you stop, just keep going. The second you let your momentum die, you’ve given yourself an out, and it’s hard to that going again. Don’t confuse quitting with pushing yourself beyond your personal best and needing a break, the two are wholly different and for no other reason other than the second you stop running because you don’t feel like it, you set a new low for yourself mentally and you killed your momentum. The second you stop running because you’ve pushed your body to its absolute limit and you need a break, you just taught yourself that you’re stronger than you thought you were and resistance didn’t win, your momentum did. I hope that makes sense, because it’s the most critical lesson that I learned.
- Big things take big accountability. I ran this race with two best friends who never let me quit. At one point each of us during training had said that we should just quit on this race because we didn’t have time to train or it felt exhausting or one excuse or another, but no one let anyone quit. When my friend text me that Saturday morning a week before the race and told me that I needed to run 10 miles or she would be at my house Monday to do it before work, I absolutely needed that. I needed a friend that believed in me and wanted to push me and to remind me that resistance wouldn’t win, but that I absolutely had to do that. A lot of times we let our friends make excuses for things they don’t feel comfortable doing instead of holding them accountable to that which they originally set out to accomplish. Push your friends. Challenge your friends. Iron sharpens iron and it’s never more true than when resistance peers its ugly head and tells one party that they can’t accomplish something that’s seemingly too big or too daunting.
- Finish strong. When I saw the finish line, I stopped running. I was dead tired and, quite frankly, resistance won. All I wanted was for it to be over. I heard all the voices in my head telling me to finish strong and somewhere inside of me I got the strength to run the last tiny portion, picking up a girl along the way who had also stopped to walk. “We aren’t crossing this finish line walking, just keep running with me.” And so we did. This complete stranger and I finished strong, despite every ounce of our body begging us to quit. Run the race set before you and finish strong, whatever the race may be. Oh and finishing? Finishing is the sweetest sense of victory that you can ever feel. I finished the race set before me and I finished as strong as my body would let me.
I’ll run another half and maybe someday a full marathon, if only for the sheer fact that accomplishing something you once said was impossible is perhaps the greatest healthy high that you can give yourself. Sometimes you have to agree to do something crazy and then find the strength from within to accomplish it– you’ll be surprised at what you’re able to accomplish when you sign up for the race, show up and realize that once it’s started the only way out is to run the race set before you and finish it strong.
If I can, you can. And I really sincerely mean that.
*Top photos via Nike